A force for peace in Liberia | Major General Salihu Zaway Uba, Force Commander

6 Apr 2018

A force for peace in Liberia | Major General Salihu Zaway Uba, Force Commander

The eighth Force Commander of the Mission, Major General Salihu Zaway Uba has been leading the final withdrawal of troops from UNMIL. He had been a sector commander with UNMIL in 2010-2012 and served on the UN Mission in the former Yugoslavia UNPROFOR. Before this post, he was Commander of the Training and Doctrine Command and the Commandant of the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Center.
Major-General Salihu Zaway Uba, UNMILForce Commander
Photo: Albert G. Farran | UNMIL | 18 Jan 18
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how your prior work has given you a unique perspective for working with UNMIL?
I took over command from Major General Leonard Muriuki of Kenya in February 2015. I was excited to be appointed Force Commander, because I had previously served in UNMIL as a sector commander back in 2010-2012. To not only be able to see how Liberia has changed over the years, but to be given the unique opportunity of leading the forces during the drawdown, really made me appreciate this occasion all the more.
Back in Nigeria before my appointment, my positions with the Training and Doctrine Command and Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Centre enabled me to have an excellent understanding of doctrine and the responsibilities of being a peacekeeper which has influenced my work as the Force Commander. I am glad to be able to show that I can be a peacekeeper as well as run Nigeria's peacekeeping school.
What are the responsibilities of the Force Commander?
My primary responsibility has been the operational well-being of UNMIL military forces. I have attained this by ensuring every unit and soldier has the required resources and capacity to execute the UNMIL mandate. I also interface with the Mission leadership for advice and guidance on the operational, administrative, conduct and training matters of the force. At the same time, I work closely with the Office of Military Affairs in the peacekeeping department in New York to ensure the correct military force flow arrives at the Mission to maintain the right posture.
What is the role of the troops in the UNMIL mandate and what tasks do they perform to fulfil the Mission?
The military roles are subject to the various Security Council resolutions. Per the current resolution 2333, our central role is the protection of UN personnel, facilities, and equipment. Also, the resolution defines the assistance we are to provide for the protection of civilians and provision of logistical support to the 2017 presidential and legislative elections. With our reduced strength as the Mission winds down, for staff officers, military observers and contingents, the tasks have been overwhelming, and we have to prioritize. The Nigerian Company’s primary focus has been on the protection of the UN personnel, equipment, and facilities which they have achieved via mobile patrols and exercises to enhance their response capability. The Ukrainian Aviation Unit not only provides airlift to UN personnel and equipment, but also helped support the Government of Liberia’s elections through transporting sensitive election material to counties that ground transportation could not reach on time. The Pakistani Medical Unit has been providing medical level 2 services to all of the UN personnel and ensuring the stable health of UNMIL personnel.
What were the operational instructions and directives that you issued in fulfilment of the mandate?
With the issuance of resolution 2333 in December of 2016, most of our operations and directives have been focused on supporting the Government of Liberia with the elections. With this focus, my staff were directed to work with the UN peacekeeping department’s Military Advisor as well as with the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to coordinate and plan the possible deployment of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in case of a strategic reversal. The QRF was a contingent based in nearby Côte d’Ivoire since 2014 which was to provide urgent support should the security situation deteriorate in Liberia, a possibility anticipated for the period of the recent elections. The force of Senegalese troops moved to Mali in 2017. We coordinated with MINUSMA to ensure the QRF would arrive fully operational within 72 hours. As the elections went peacefully, the QRF was not needed during the process.
In addition, we have revamped all of our standard operating procedures, directives, fragmentary and operational orders to ensure optimal functioning of the force for the protection of UN personnel, equipment and facilities and to ensure an adequate military footprint for any contingency. We have continued to exercise and rehearse medical evacuation, mass casualty, and search and rescue exercises to ensure all military forces are ready to assist in a coordinated format in a time of need.
The peacekeeping force has seen a systematic drawdown under your watch: What are some of the challenges involved in that?
With any drawdown, there will be challenges. However, it is how you face those challenges that defines the capacity of the force that is left. I have been fortunate with the staff officers assigned to this Mission. Through forward planning and quick adaptation, they have managed to ensure a hitch-free process of drawdown. Some of the key challenges are the loss of operational capability of the force in terms of engineering, medical, air and operational support. For the longest time, we had our own Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team and robust transport and engineering capability of road and airfield maintenance. We had to do away with these due to drawdown. Though the Nigerian Company can still perform some engineering functions when we need to dispose of certain types of expired ammunitions, the main support capability of the force was withdrawn and we had to find an alternate course of action for the residual force. Through our relationship with the AFL, we were able to work together to ensure the use of their engineering assets for safe destruction of the expired ammunition.

Another challenge concerned our information collection once the consolidation of military forces in Monrovia occurred. Having multiple military units spread across the country gave the leadership a better information flow for understanding the environment. We adapted by utilizing our military observers more frequently and for longer trips to gain the information we were no longer receiving from forces in the field because of the drawdown.

The Force undertook a number of development projects to assist the Government of Liberia to meet its challenges. Can you throw light on some of these projects?

Personnel from the Ukranian Aviation Unit load a helicopter into an Antonov cargo plane at Roberts International Airport as the contingent departs the Mission at the end of its mandate on 30 March 18. Photo: Albert G. Farran | UNMIL | 13 Feb 18

The military has always had a hands-on approach to helping develop Liberia. At the beginning of the Mission, the staff officers worked closely with the AFL to train their staff officers on the relevant requirements and planning abilities. Over time the UNMIL force has also helped the AFL develop technical skills such as masonry, welding, and first aid training. From the beginning, peacekeepers at contingent levels have played a pivotal role in undertaking different development projects which helped in alleviating the sufferings of the Liberian people. Such civil-military coordination projects included road construction, the rehabilitation, and renovation of schools, construction of bridges on vital communication arteries and the establishment of water filtration plants. Apart from this, quick-impact projects have been undertaken to assist the AFL in the renovation of the barracks at Voinjama, Buchanan and Zwedru.
The troops that are under your command came from various countries. What has been the challenge of commanding a multinational force?
"the frequency of turnover of contingents became  a serious challenge: as soon as contingents settle down for business, they are due for rotation, and you have to start the cycle of training all over again."
I feel fortunate to have been the commander of a force that has troops from several different countries providing exceptional diversity and capacity to achieve a common goal of consolidating peace to Liberia.
The key challenge was mainly that of understanding the concept of operational peacekeeping by international troops of various nationalities. To put all on the same pedestal, we embarked on training and sensitization visits much more vigorously and regularly. However, the frequency of turnover of contingents became a serious challenge: as soon as contingents settle down for business, they are due for rotation, and you have to start the cycle of training all over again. The force was big on the ground providing specified services. As UNMIL continued to draw down, the reliance on more capacity from specific units and individual officers became a great challenge. The good thing is that troop-contributing countries are maintaining professional armies with excellent training standards, by which before their deployment to a peacekeeping mission, each unit and individual are taken through an intense training schedule to serve as a peacekeeper. These helped to mitigate some of the challenges in the force. But, as we have consolidated in central Monrovia, the capacity of the force has also become limited. Capacity has been a challenge but, more importantly, it was an excellent learning experience.
The 2017 presidential election has been a success story for Liberia and its partners. What was the peacekeepers’ contribution?
Peacekeepers contributed in many areas that have included capacity building of the defence sector, reforms of the security sector, mentorship and adherence to good practices, transport and election support, the transition of security responsibilities to Liberia’s security forces, and the use of good offices in all facets of the Government of Liberia’s institutions.
At this phase of peace consolidation, the use of UNMIL good offices to mitigate perceived threats to peace has been very potent and effective.
The efforts of all UNMIL peacekeepers have been enduring, and since the security transfer in June 2016, the Liberian security services have reached a level of maturity indicating they can be a catalyst for positive change in the destiny of Liberia.
"My overall theme has been: “A single case of SEA has the potential to undo the work of thousands of soldiers, apart from earning a bad reputation for the UN and the home country.”
What useful lessons do you think future missions can learn from the UNMIL force experience?
Relationships between humanitarian actors and military forces are essential at the beginning of the mission. The need for cross-border coordination was experienced with both Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone to enhance communications between UN missions and the contiguous countries. Inter-mission cooperation and coordination is a key to successful missions. More important, some of the best practices which made this Mission successful were the focused approach of UNMIL leadership, capacity building of Government institutions and the winning-heartsand-minds strategy of the Mission. Robust use of good offices could solve a lot of security incidents and problems in the field. Adequate force level in a mission to cater for contingencies would serve as deterrence to peace spoilers. The robust use of the mandate and ensuring the capacity to deliver by force should be the emphasis of future peacekeeping.
The conduct of troops in peacekeeping operations regarding sexual exploitation and abuse has become a bane for the UN. What concrete measures did you take to check the incidence of SEA?
SEA is very detrimental to the triangle of support in peacekeeping. It dents the image of the peacekeeping mission and the UN, as well as that of the nation of the peacekeeper. It is very detrimental to the purpose for which peacekeeping is deployed. As commander, I directed a tiered approach where everyone in the chain of command was involved. The prominent activities in this plan included: training of every individual soldier in SEA; constituting a military anti-SEA committee; frequent visits and interaction by the force leadership with troops to sensitize them on SEA; strict adherence to standard operating procedures and directives about SEA; and organizing SEA seminars to create awareness amongst the soldiers.
We were never tired of sensitization, and we made it a weekly ritual to discuss the evil of SEA at the force leadership level and to incorporate the Conduct and Discipline Unit in all anti-SEA programming of the force.

“The efforts of all UNMIL peacekeepers have been enduring, and since the security transfer in June 2016, the Liberian security services have reached a level of maturity indicating they can be a catalyst for positive change in the destiny of Liberia.”

We sent clear directives on the accountability and responsibilities of commanders as regards the troop’s conduct and discipline. My overall theme has been: “A single case of SEA has the potential to undo the work of thousands of soldiers, apart from earning a bad reputation for the UN and the home country.” We insisted on continuous training and recreation for the troops to reduce boredom, and over the past year, this approach has resulted in zero cases of SEA in the force.
What would you like to tell the Liberian people as you look to the future?
Thank you for the opportunity to learn and grow from all the hardworking Liberians, and professional partners who enable an environment for potential economic growth and development. Liberia should shun all forms of violence and tolerate one another for the progress of the country.
Interestingly, Liberia has a rich history and culture and is one of the two countries in Africa that was never colonized. Such a rich history can only be sustained by upholding the tenets of democracy, and good and inclusive governance for the future generations of Liberians.
Photo: Emmanuel Tobey | UNMIL | 21 Jan 07